Did a U.S. Cable Out a Malaysian Politician as Gay?

Describing a trial for sodomy, a diplomatic cable refers to 'non-heterosexual' behavior

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A U.S. diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks and published on Wednesday by the Malaysian news site Malaysia Today appears to have outed some government higher-ups as gay, a dangerous bit of information to let slip in a country where homosexual sex is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The cable, which provides a primer on the ongoing sodomy prosecution against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, includes this note that the prosecution is likely a political move:

Anwar's prosecution is not part of a morals campaign.  The GOM does not aggressively target non-heterosexual behavior; if it did so, a recent cabinet minister, senior staff associated with PM Najib and other prominent citizens linked to the government also would find themselves under investigation.

Theres' a rumor about the possible identity of the officials, in particular the cabinet minister, but first, some background: Anwar Ibrahim served as deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, and leads a party called Keadilan (the People's Justice Party, in English). He was convicted of corruption in 1999 and sodomy in 2000, and spent six years in solitary confinement, according to his website. He was released in 2004 after the sodomy verdict was overturned, and re-entered politics. In 2008, he won a parliamentary seat at the head of the opposition party. That same year, he was re-arrested for sodomy after an aide said he had sex with him. In Parliament, where he's still active, Anwar continued to attack the sitting prime minister, Najib Razak, but faced political backlash because of the latest charges of sodomy. In June, a video supposedly showing Anwar engaged in gay sex leaked on YouTube, and is seen as critical evidence in his latest trial, which got underway on July 8. With Anwar in the dock, Najib's political future looks smooth, but the revelation in the U.S. cable may hinder that. The question in the Malaysian media now becomes: just who are those officials the cable refers to? One rumor persists.

Back in February, the popular Malaysian blog Another Brick in the Wall ran a post claiming a member of Najib's cabinet was gay, and calling for an investigation into who it was. The unnamed blogger (whose Blogger profile identifies him only as a male living in Malaysia) appeared to know the minister's identity, but didn't reveal it. He ran this description, citing a source from the United Malays National Organization, Najib's party: "There is a Cabinet Minister from Johor that is in the habit of going out socially with pretty young boys to restaurants and nite clubs in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru." The post said the source didn't identify the minister, but it added this disclaimer: "in case, anyone is guessing as [Home Affairs Minister] Dato Seri Hishamuddin Hussein because this blog used to call him pondan [a derogatory Malay term for a homosexual] for his indecisions at Ministry of Internal Affairs, our answer is No. It is not Hishamuddin."

Malaysia has received wide criticism for its anti-gay laws, most recently when the government started sending boys deemed effeminate to a "boot camp" to make them straight. But the justice system of the largely Muslim country still acts largely in accordance with Sharia law, which sees homosexuality as a sin and, in some interpretations, punishable by death.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.